The More Complete Movie-going Experience


I don’t have a lot of “movie-going experiences” anymore.  The fact is they just aren’t making pictures for me these days.  Today’s movies are mostly in two flavors: one for thrill-seeking computer game-playing boys, and the other for Cinderella-fantasizing adolescent girls.  So once in a blue moon when a movie does come out with a bit of adult sophistication and subject matter that interests me, I like to see it. I still enjoy the “movie-going experience.”
Suddenly two movies came out which held interest for me.  One of them, “Shutter Island,” I saw a few weeks ago.  The other movie…well, that experience is the basis for this week’s column.
It happened last week when a friend and I went to a movie theater and noticed that the bottom third of the screen was out of focus.  When it was brought to the attention of the theater manager he said that it can’t be fixed and besides, we shouldn’t expect the projected image to be in total focus anyway – it is impossible.  If you try to get the bottom part sharp, he went on to say, then the top will be out of focus.  It just can’t be done.  No, the entire screen image simply cannot be in focus at the same time.  He talked to us as if we have never seen a movie projected in a theater before. 
Well, you can’t fool me.  I’ve actually seen a movie projected before so I know that it IS possible for the entire image to be in focus.  Ah, but the manager continued in his condescending manner.  He held up a ballpoint pen (representing a movie projector) and placed it against the wall with one hand, while holding up a sheet of paper (representing the movie screen) facing the pen straight on with his other hand.  That’s right – the guy used props to demonstrate to the two dummies how a movie is projected onto a screen.
Without a word my friend took the man’s pen and raised it up slightly and angled it downward to the sheet of paper demonstrating how an actual projector operates in the real world, but the manager didn’t get it. Not at all.  Finally he says, “Well, I’ll give you return passes THIS TIME, but don’t expect to get one every time you come to this theater.” 
This was “the more complete movie-going experience” I experienced at the Sherman Oaks ArcLight when I went to see “The Ghost Writer” last week. 
The heading on their web site states boldly:  “Welcome to ArcLight, where movie lovers belong.”   I had never been to an ArcLight movie house, but I knew that they were supposedly the Cadillac of cinemas.  The picture I wanted to see was in limited distribution, and the most convenient theater for me was the Sherman Oaks ArcLight.  And hey, I’m a movie lover, so I figured that was where I belonged.
The web site copy continued:  “ArcLight cinemas makes every movie better.  In fact, that’s the idea that inspired us to create a more complete movie-going experience.  The experience inside the cinema auditorium is ArcLight’s focal point. Designed to exceed THX standards of presentation excellence, ArcLight auditoriums begin with a ‘black box’ design aesthetic which favors undistracted viewing over opulence, and feature the best in sight and sound technology, allowing films to be presented as the filmmakers intend.”
The site goes on to explain in technical detail the projectors they use. “All auditoriums are equipped with Kinoton FP50D 35mm projectors.  ArcLight is one of a handful of U.S. theaters that have made the investment in these superior German imports.  Silicon sprockets allow film to run smoothly with fewer chances of stress and breakage and with less lint attracted. Glass reflectors (instead of metal) allow heat to pass through, enabling the use of higher amp bulbs which creates better light on the screen, without warping the film through repeated exposure to elevated temperatures.”
And then they rhapsodize about their screens:   “All screens are curved to maximize peripheral view and minimize projection distortion.  They are permeable to allow full sound from rear mounted speakers, and made of light gain material to maximize brightness and clarity of the projected image. They range in size from 40 to 60 feet wide in scope format.”   
And this is why we brought the projection problem to their attention.  It wasn’t about getting a return pass, not at all.  As I said, I don’t go to many movies anymore so having a return pass is no big treasure for me.  We just thought that a place that prides itself on offering “the more complete movie-going experience” might want to know if that experience is, shall we say, less than complete. 
I’m hoping that particular manager was one bad apple and not representative of the entire barrel.  If anyone in a higher position of the organization is interested in investigating this focus snafu, the auditorium is number 10.  Check it out.  As for me, I’m curious to try the ArcLight in Hollywood to see if the same problem exists over there.  But first I have to wait for another intelligent adult movie to come out that I want to see.  I may have a long wait.

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